Federal Circuit Skewers Trademark Applicant

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In In re Cordua Restaurants, Inc., [2015-1432] (May 13, 2016), the Federal Circuit affirmed the refusal of registration of the stylized mark  CHURRASCOS for restaurant services on the ground that term is generic.

Applicant operated a chain of restaurants branded as Churrascos, serving a variety of South American dishes, including grilled meats, including a signature “Churrasco Steak.”  Applicant applied and obtained Reg. No. 3,439,321 on CHURRASCOS for “restaurant and bar services; catering.”  However, the Examiner refused registration on the stylized version of CHURRASCOS because it “refer[s] to beef or grilled meat more generally” and that the term “identifies a key characteristic or feature of the restaurant services, namely, the type of restaurant.”  The Board affirmed the refusal.

The Federal Circuit said that a generic term ‘is the common descriptive name of a class of goods or services, and that the critical issue in genericness cases is whether members of the relevant public primarily use or understand the term sought to be protected to refer to the genus of goods or services in question.  Genericness is determined according to the two-step Ginn test: First, what is the genus of goods or services at issue? Second, is the term sought to be registered or retained on the register understood by the relevant public primarily to refer to that genus of goods or services?

Cordua argued that the Board misapplied the first step in focusing on its specific type of services, rather than on the broader description of services in the application, While agreeing that the focus should be on the description as set forth in the application, saying the correct question is not whether “churrascos” is generic as applied to Cordua’s own restaurants but rather whether the term is understood by the restaurant-going public to refer to the wider genus of restaurant services. However, the Federal Circuit found that the Board’s apparent error in considering Cordua’s own restaurant services is harmless, because in the end the Board focused on “restaurant services.” As to the second step of the Ginn test, the Federal Circuit found substantial evidence supported the finding that churrascos is the generic term for a type of cooked meat, and for a restaurant featuring churrasco steaks.

The Federal Circuit rejected Cordua’s argument that the “s” on the end of CHURRASCO made the term non-generic, because CHURRASCOS is not the proper plural of CHURRASCO, while the Federal Circuit countered that “pluralization commonly does not alter the meaning of a mark.”  Since “churrascos” is an English-language term, there is nothing in the record to indicate that the addition of the “S” at the end alters its meaning (beyond making the word plural).

The Federal Circuit said its precedent makes clear that a term is generic if the relevant public understands it to refer to a key aspect of the genus of goods or services in question.  The Federal Circuit said that there is substantial evidence in the record that “churrascos” refers to a key aspect of a class of restaurants because those restaurants are commonly referred to as “churrasco restaurants.”

Finally the Federal Circuit noted that stylized nature of the mark cannot save it from ineligibility as generic.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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